Cuban entrepreneurship – an unpolished diamond

The first time I placed my foot on Cuban soil was in May 2017. The purpose was to plan a  trip for a delegation of 25 Danish Businessmen in November the same year. We wanted to see Cuba, which seemed to take a leap forward following the joint process between the Cuban government and the Obama administration.

I was quickly caught by the ambiance of Cuba and a friendly population. And it was evident that business prospered.

I also quickly realized that Cuba offers endless opportunities if one can crack the code of how to do business with the country – and in the country.

Having researched opportunities I focused on the Honey industry and revisited the country on a fact finding trip organised with helpful assistance from the Cuban embassy in Denmark. The outcome of the trip and the meetings was a decision to make a  Crowdfunding campaign in Denmark to raise funds for beehives. The campaign was designed as a pilot project and was later completed flawlessly in cooperation with Apicuba. During the process I learned a lot about how to do business with a Cuban state owned company. The conclusion is that it certainly can be done. And now it will be scaled to similar crowdfunding campaigns in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain. Again with Apicuba as the implementing partner in Cuba.

In November 2022 I was once again in Cuba – my 8th visit. One purpose was to go to FIHAV and follow up on talks with previous contacts.

Another purpose was to explore the possibility of a project within entrepreneurship.  In order to qualify for funding by the Danish Government this requires the cooperation between a Danish NGO and a Cuban NGO.

I was therefore interested to get in contact with the Cuban entrepreneurial  scene. Fortunately one of the few Danes in Cuba, Mr. Jan Nicolaysen, had the contacts. And even more fortunate was that he got me on the guest list to post FIHAV networking event.

When I arrived at the very cool venue, Rita&Champagne, I immediately realised that this was exactly what I was looking for. This event had the same vibe as entrepreneur networking events in Copenhagen, London, Stockholm, Berlin, Barcelona or any other city with a thriving start-up environment. And the people I met shared the same values and beliefs as entrepreneurs everywhere else. I could literally see fire in their eyes and a desire to make a difference with their new ventures.

What also struck me was that app. 75% of the entrepreneurs were woman. A pattern I also saw at FIHAV where  most of my meetings were with women in senior positions.

This is the opposite of the ration we see in Europe. But as companies founded by female entrepreneurs statistically have a higher rate of survival versus their male counterparts the road to success is paved.

I was truly impressed of what has been achieved in a short time. With the liberalization in 2010  of licencing of cuentapropistas and later in 2021 the legislation enabling Mipyme´s Cuban entrepreneurs are fast tracking what most other countries have spent hundreds of years in establishing and refining.  (Mipyme = a legal company structured as a LTD – but capped at 99 employees)

I therefore have great admiration of what has been achieved by companies such as Mandao, Negolution, Velo Cuba, Mad Woman Agency, Agua de Marzo and many more whom I met.

I am confident that a lot of Cuban entrepreneurs will prosper and scale their businesses domestically and/or internationally. At the same time I see opportunities for foreign investors to join Cubans in partnerships or just passive investments. And I see opportunities especially for foreign SME´s to look at Cuba under the Mipyme framework as well as Cuban companies going abroad.

In my view Mipyme´s could very well become one of the most important initiatives to bring prosperity to Cuba. I base this on the fact the 99% of the 3,4 million private companies in the EU are defined as SME´s and they employ app. 50% of the EU workforce. SME´s thus form the backbone of the economy and this certainly also could become the case in Cuba.

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